In July, a boat full of eager and happy tourists set out to go see Exuma’s famous swimming pigs. What should have been a day of snapping pictures with cute critters ended in disaster when the boat’s engine exploded. The explosion killed one American woman and seriously injured nine others.
In the months that followed the investigation into the explosion revealed critical information. The boat that day, operated by Four C’s Adventures, wasn’t registered or inspected by the Port Authority. The official report stated that “under no circumstances” should the Four C ’s have operated “the craft on a commercial basis”.
This ultimately led to Four C’s owner, Clayton Smith, and boat captain, Roderick Watson, being charged with 1 count of manslaughter and 9 counts of harm by negligence. The two were recently granted bail and are awaiting their trial set for December.
However, the real fault lies with the Bahamian government.
In the official accident report, the investigators concluded that the Port Department of Exuma had not been “adequately resourced to control and regulate commercial water crafts operating on the island.” It also noted “significant number of commercial crafts operating within the waters of Exuma are not registered with the Port Department despite having submitted valid applications. The mechanical, structural, and safety standards required to be met cannot be verified.”
In other words, companies that try to take the proper legal steps for their business are unable to due to an understaffed government department.
A recent Bahamas Maritime Authority report found that the current 110 workers in the Port Department are not enough to effectively carry out their duties, which include ensuring commercial vessel, like the one in the fatal explosion, are properly registered and inspected. The report found that around 60-70 more employees are needed.
Unregistered operations are more common than registered ones across The Bahamas. The BMA report noted that of the 18 charter boat companies in operation in Exuma, only 6 are registered. Other’s have pending applications but continued to operate.
Meanwhile, the Bahamian government continues to promote and benefit from these illegal operations without taking any action to better protect its local businesses or tourists.
The investigation report on the explosion included recommendations for the government to finally amend the Commercial Recreational Watercraft Act to require all self-built boats to undergo “survey by a recognised organisation to verify the boat’s seaworthiness”. So far this has been continually tabled by the government allowing self-built boats, like the one involved in the Four C’s explosion, to operate in the water.
The government is quick to point the finger at Four C’s, yet they continually fail to provide businesses with proper resources and outlets to legally operate.
Up until recently, the official Bahamian website promoted Four C’s Adventures to tourists.
Four C’s Adventures is definitely partly to blame for the tragic accident that happened in July. The victims of this tragedy deserve justice. But a conviction will not prevent accidents like this from happening again.
The Bahamian government needs to acknowledge the part they played. The failed, and continue to fail, in providing their residents with a path to safely and legally operate businesses. The government is using Four C’s as a scapegoat to try to show they’re taking action without actually doing so.
How long do charter companies have to wait for applications to be approved or for their boats to be inspected? Why does the government continue to promote these unregistered businesses? What methods are in place for tourists, businesses, and officials to identify registered charter operations? Who is monitoring the boats operating to ensure they are safe?
The bottom line is that the Bahamian government needs to do more. Tourism is the main source of economy in the country. Tourists and local business owners need to be protected so that accidents like the boat explosion do not happen again. No one wants another tragedy.